The National Astronomical Observatory Rozhen: Centre of Excellence in Astronomy

In spite of its century-old tradition in training and preparation of qualified specialists and of the success recently achieved in the field of scientific research, observational, educational, qualifying, and popularizing activities, Astronomy in Bulgaria experiences serious difficulties to keep the good specialists, mainly due to lack of funds for modernization and extension of the observational equipment. Even though recognized as a leader in the region, especially in the field of stellar spectroscopy, the National Astronomical Observatory - Rozhen (NAO_Rozhen) cannot hold yet its well-deserved position in the European family of astronomical observatories, remaining outside the scope of the large-scale astronomical initiatives and structures like OPTICON, NEON, ESO.

Like other East European countries, Bulgaria is making great efforts to stimulate its economy and to reform and modernize the research infrastructures founded during socialism. However, the funds for innovation and scientific development , provided by the Governments during the last 20 years, are extremely insufficient; that is why Bulgaria faces real difficulties in the process of integration into the European Research Area.

Contrary to the large-scale infrastructure projects like -ELT of 42 m aperture size, telescopes of small and medium size (SMT), like the 2m one at NAO, seem insignificant, even useless at first glance. However, experience shows that when supplied with the proper observational equipment, these telescopes are perfect instruments for the realization of certain types of activities like:

  • Star surveys in the optical and infrared domain like VISTA;
  • Network to ensure data for long-term projects, demanding good coverage in time, e.g. studies of stellar pulsations, of all types of binary systems, of variability and stellar wind structure effects, of late spectral class active stars, of exoplanets, etc.;
  • Support for space research missions like GRB, Corot and GAIA;
  • Training and qualification of students, young astronomers and PhD students.

Motivated by the above stated, Bulgarian astronomers university lecturers and academic researchers, gathered together around the idea, by joint efforts and based on the existing traditions and achievements, to transform NAO Rozhen into the Bulgarian Astro-Centre of Excellence (BG Astro-CE), playing a key part in the process of development and bringing Bulgarian astronomical science closer to the objectives of the European Science Programme and of the European Research Area. This initiative start on the eve of the International Year of Astronomy 2009 is of key importance for the future of astronomy in Bulgaria.

A key stage in the realization of this ambitious project is modernization of the observational equipment in NAO. The first step in this direction (see paragraph 5) is the re-alluminization of the 2m telescope mirror. This project, financed by BAS, will be completed by the end of this summer. The second step is associated with the replacement of the 2m telescope control electronics and with the put in operation of an echelle spectrograph for the 2m telescope and a CCD camera for the 50/70 Schmidt telescope, which financing is a subject of the present project. The realization of the two stages will result mainly in adding new problems and reduction and analysis methods to the scientific themes, which will build up a larger basis for cooperation with similar institutions in the local region and in Europe.

design: Anton Iliev and Pencho Markishki